US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela regime as Russia ups support

Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido waves to supporters outside the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP)
Updated 02 March 2019
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US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela regime as Russia ups support

  • Four people were killed in the melee as Maduro's forces prevented the 178 metric tonnes of rice, beans and other food from crossing, with the leftist strongman seeing the aid as a pretext for a US-led invasion

WASHINGTON: The United States and Russia clashed Friday over how to assist ailing Venezuela, with Moscow pledging new relief channeled through President Nicolas Maduro and Washington slapping sanctions over the blocking of US aid it tried to force through the border.
A day after Russia and China vetoed a US and European resolution at the UN Security Council that called for unimpeded aid deliveries, Washington said it was targeting six Venezuelan military officers for stopping last weekend's US-led convoy.
Four people were killed in the melee as Maduro's forces prevented the 178 metric tonnes of rice, beans and other food from crossing, with the leftist strongman seeing the aid as a pretext for a US-led invasion.
"We are sanctioning members of Maduro's security forces in response to the reprehensible violence, tragic deaths and unconscionable torching of food and medicine destined for sick and starving Venezuelans," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The six include Major General Richard Jesus Lopez Vargas, the commander of the Venezuelan National Guard. The sanctions freeze any assets in the United States and penalize US financial dealings with the officials.
The United States also revoked the visas of 49 Venezuelan officials and their family members, the State Department said.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington has recognized as interim president, had hoped to triumph in bringing in the stockpiles of food, which the United States coordinated with Colombia and Brazil.
Guaido has said 300,000 people could die without an influx of aid into Venezuela. The United Nations says 2.7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015 as the socialist economy crumbles, with basic supplies out of reach to the masses.
More than 50 countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela's president -- but Maduro enjoys strong support from Russia, which is eager to challenge US interventionism, as well as China, which is concerned over the fate of billions of dollars Beijing has lent to Caracas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, receiving Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow, said Russia was stepping up shipments of wheat and was considering sending more medical supplies after shipping 7.5 tonnes worth.
"We are very closely cooperating and coordinating all our steps in the international arena," Lavrov said.
"This has acquired special significance now that Venezuela is facing a frontal attack and unabashed interference in its domestic affairs," he said.
Elliott Abrams, the US special representative on the crisis, charged that Maduro's forces would turn Russian aid into a "political weapon" by providing it only to supporters.
"Obviously we are in favor of giving humanitarian assistance to Venezuela; we are not in favor of giving it to this corrupt regime," Abrams told reporters in Washington.
Lavrov voiced hope that international pressure would "cool hotheads in Washington" who he said are seeking military intervention in Venezuela.
He alleged that the United States was planning to buy small arms, mortar launchers and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles from an "Eastern European country" and station them "close to Venezuela."
President Donald Trump has not ruled out military intervention in Venezuela, although even close US allies have said they would not support the use of force.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has worked closely with Trump to seek Maduro's ouster, appeared this week to suggest a violent climax as he posted on Twitter two pictures of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi -- one relaxed and smiling while in power, the other bloodied as he was lynched in an uprising.
Defying a travel ban by Maduro, Guaido went first to Colombia to try to bring in the aid and to meet with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
The 35-year-old political newcomer continued on to Brazil, where he met the new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and on Friday traveled to Paraguay.
Speaking to reporters in Brasilia on Thursday, Guaido said he would return home "at the latest on Monday" despite threats to arrest him.
Abrams said the United States was "very concerned" about Guaido's ability to return home safely and warned of a "very large reaction" if he is arrested.


Japan drops ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea from diplomatic book

Updated 58 min 24 sec ago
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Japan drops ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea from diplomatic book

  • Language was dropped after consideration of latest developments surrounding North Korea
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seen as a foreign policy hawk, has also softened his rhetoric toward North Korea

TOKYO: Japan on Tuesday dropped the push to apply “maximum pressure” on North Korea from its official foreign policy, an apparent softening of Tokyo’s position as major powers engage with Pyongyang.
In last year’s “Diplomatic Bluebook,” published when tensions on the Korean peninsula were soaring, Japan said it was coordinating efforts with its allies to “maximize pressure on North Korea by all available means.”
But this language was dropped from this year’s edition, drawn up after diplomats had “taken comprehensively into account the latest developments surrounding North Korea,” according to chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
“There have been major developments in the situation surrounding North Korea in light of events such as the US-North Korea summits in June last year and February,” Suga told reporters.
Abe, seen as a foreign policy hawk, has also softened his rhetoric toward North Korea, frequently offering to meet leader Kim Jong Un to negotiate the decades-old issue of Japanese civilians kidnapped by the North.
“Japan seeks to normalize its relations with North Korea by comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues as well as settling an unfortunate past,” Suga said.
Tokyo has been one of the most hawkish of the major powers on North Korea and has been on the receiving end of some of Pyongyang’s harshest rhetoric — as well as missiles launched over its territory.
Until late 2017, North Korea repeatedly tested missiles that flew toward or over Japan, sparking warnings blared out on loudspeakers and stoking calls for a tough stance against Pyongyang.
However, Japan now finds itself battling to keep itself relevant in the fast-moving North Korea issue as Kim expands his diplomatic circle.
Kim is now preparing for talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, after multiple meetings with US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
Abe will soon meet Trump at the White House where the issue of North Korea is bound to be on the table.